How the darkness of shame became the light of love

I was a bright, cheerful and sensitive child. My school work was immaculate and (a little too highly) illustrated. I was creative and preferred the company of girls because they were sensitive, too. But, as I grew older, I realised that my sunny disposition made me different from the boys around me. I felt that they would not accept me the way that I was, and so from my early teens, I suppressed the dancing spirit within me. In time, I came to understand that I was gay and I suppressed that dancing spirit still further because I knew that it would betray me. I lived in fear of being exposed and my sweet innocence turned into the darkness of shame.

At 12 years old, I got drunk for the first time. Oh, how I loved the effect! The fear and shame of my bleak teenage world lifted, and here, in a bottle, I’d found something which lit a flame within me. My first binge was to shape a lifetime’s behaviour.

Alcohol worked well, for a while. I callously dumped my nerdy friends and escaped my geeky image. I had the best parties. I womanised and I bragged about my conquests. You see, when I drank, I bypassed the thinking part of my brain with all its insecurities, inhibitions, fear and secrets, and I tapped directly into my ‘lizard brain’; the place where all my urges and drives resided. As I drank, I grew taller, stronger, better looking, more confident and more entertaining. My new persona grew to mask the person I was ashamed of being.

Living inauthentically at a crucial time in my psychological development meant that I never matured into a grounded human being. I experienced the same milestones as others: graduation, love, overseas adventures, my first job, and even eventually finding the courage to ‘come out’ to friends and family. However, I didn’t grow with those experiences as others do. In fact, because of alcohol, every one of those experiences is marred for me by memories which make me cringe now.

Coming out, of course, is often a huge milestone for most LGBTQI+ people. Like many others, I defiantly announced to everyone that I was, in fact, proudly different to them. Then, I scurried to the nearest gay bar to find people among whom I felt the same. In gay bars, I felt I had found a sanctuary and a sense of belonging. I didn’t know then that because of the alcohol, my safe place was also going to bring me to my knees.

It’s been a feature of my life that whenever life gets difficult or uncomfortable, I run away to start again somewhere else. After graduating, when I should have been looking for a good job, I ran to Asia to teach English for almost no money. I found myself in a drastically different culture at a time when I did not have the maturity to handle it. Instead of exploring and learning, I was drawn, like a moth to that flame, to the familiarity and the escape of alcohol and drugs.

My world shrunk and by this time, drinking had stopped being fun. Shame had returned, and burdened by a sense of worthlessness, my behaviour spiralled downwards faster than I could lower my moral standards. I could not understand why I drank even when it was the last thing on this earth that I wanted to do! I couldn’t understand why I was emerging again from a club, blinking in the daylight and staggering home as others walked to work. Why could I not control myself? For me, only another drink could sooth the pain.

In 2014, a life crisis hit. I won’t go into the details of what happened, but I my drinking meant that I was not able to handle it. I responded in the only way I knew how, and that was to drown myself in alcohol. I hit my ‘rock bottom’.

Now, here begins a series of miracles: (1) the universe sent a recovering alcoholic to scoop me up from the dark alleys and introduce me to a group of people who were also recovering alcoholics (2) within days, the obsession to drink and the physical cravings were lifted from me, as it had been from them (3) as my mind cleared, I began to recognise myself in the stories I heard from other alcoholics, irrespective of their background, and (4) a sense of belonging came over me, as if I’d been wrapped in the arms of humanity.

Four years ago, I came into a program of recovery to break the evil cycle of drinking that was killing me. It worked for me as it does for millions of others. I rarely think about drinking now. After these four years, I keep up with this program because there, among people just like me, I learn how to live life on life’s terms. I get from this program everything that I was looking for in the bars. I have grown to feel worthy, useful and connected. I have gained the freedom to do new things and the fearlessness to live authentically. Gay, Bi, straight, young, old, rich, poor, Asian, Western, Indian, African… on this program, I have learned how to live and love life free of alcohol.

And most of all, I keep up with this program because I’ve met someone there who I have come to love unconditionally: a mature and compassionate man, who lives life with integrity but who, without doubt, has a twinkle in his eye and a dancing spirit within him. That man is me. My name is […] and I’m a grateful, recovering alcoholic.

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